Meet Scotland's first Scriever, Hamish MacDonald

The World

Hamish MacDonald, Scots Scriever

National Library of Scotland

Scotland has its first national Scots Scriever — author and playwright Hamish MacDonald.

“I am delighted tae be offered the new an vitally important role as Scots Scriever wae the National Library o Scotland. I luik forwart tae workin wae communities throughoot Scotland in gie’in voice tae this vibrant language which, whether spoken or written, deserves tae be celebrated everywhere,” said MacDonald, in Scots of course.

“Scriever” is Scots for “writer.” MacDonald was appointed “Scriever” by the National Library of Scotland and he will spend the next two years as the ambassador of the Scots language.

“It’s really a creative writing post — stimulating existing writing in Scots, or to help new writing in Scots or spoken Scots; to help with storytelling, to look at some of the provenance of the language some of the contemporary uses of the language,” MacDonald says.

MacDonald grew up in Clydeside, Scotland, an industrial region of the country, speaking what he calls a fragmented, colloquial form of Scots.

“Although people did speak a lot of Scots, they didn’t really recognize it as such,” says MacDonald. “We grew up to a varying degree of who you are and where you come from with certain amount of Scots in your speech.”

According to MacDonald, a recent census of the country counted 1.6 million people who speak or recognize Scots.

“That’s about a third of the adult population, so there’s very much an appreciation if not a revival. It has no recognized status as a language, so it’s really down to appreciation,” he says.

A resurgence of interest in the Scots language isn’t part of the recent Scottish movement for independence, but a moment that has been a long time coming, MacDonald says.

“What’s happening now is a momentum that has built up over decades,” he says.

Though many people know Scots primarily as a spoken language, there’s a long history of Scots literature going back to the medieval period.

“The first written Scots was right about the 14th century, celebrating heroes and epic battles — and then it enjoyed a golden period in the late medieval ages with poets like Robert Hendryson and William Dunbar,” MacDonald explains.

Scots became more of a spoken language as English influenced the written word. However there were moments of revival of Scots, with poets like Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott as well as Robert Louis Stevenson.

Writers like Hugh McDermott and Liz Lochhead continue to write in Scots today.

“Revival may be one way of putting it, but certainly there’s been a great recognition and appreciation of the role of Scots,” MacDonald says.